Last Thursday at Cornwall Museums Partnership’s annual Share and Learn day in Helston, I launched the Citizen Curators Programme and introduced its prospective pilot at Royal Cornwall Museum.
Citizen Curators is basically museum studies in the workplace and takes the place between attending one-off training and a full-on course at a university such as an MA in Museum Studies.
Citizen Curators is a work-based training programme aimed at skilling up volunteers (and also staff who want to develop new skills) in modern curatorial practice. The idea behind this programme was developed over 18 months ago in response to the increasing lack of opportunities to learn curatorial and modern museum skills while working or volunteering in a sustained manner, and have the opportunity to test and assess competencies and in a peer learning framework.
The rural context of Citizen Curators is important. People of smaller museums in large rural regions lack the most access to training, skills, networking and peer groups.
For me it’s an opportunity to experiment with delivering education to workers while they work, and also led by the needs of their work. Colleagues will know about my growing interest and involvement in museum skills development and I am grateful for this opportunity try out something new.
Apart from access to skills and an opportunity to test them out, the Citizen Curators pilot will also focus on recruiting at least 50% under-25s.
The emphasis will be on the participants’ learning goals, rather than on fancying up a regular volunteer opportunity or disguising a dreaded unpaid internship.
That said, participants will have to demonstrate commitment and a dedication to completing the course and creating an outcome that is meaningful to the museum.
This ethics question was originally posed by Caitlin Griffiths of the Museums Association in September 2006. I was undertaking continuing professional development for my AMA (Associateship of the Museums Association) at the time and felt, with my role in both academic research and heritage, that I had strong views on the subject. My response was published in the October 2006 issue of Museums Journal. I was also undertaking my PhD at the time.
Question: Although it is clearly unacceptable to acquire or display illicit material, is it acceptable to use this material for academic research?
Originally published in: Comment (ethics): ‘Although it is clearly unacceptable to acquire or display illicit material, is it acceptable to use this material for academic research?’, Museums Journal, 105 (10) (October 2006).
If it is morally unacceptable for a museum to acquire and display illicit objects then it is likewise unacceptable to conduct academic research on them. If the tide of ‘trade’ in illegally acquired objects is to be stopped, or at least allayed, then researchers and universities must unequivocally take the ethical higher ground. There is no reason why academic research needs to be carried out at any cost, devoid of any social and political (small ‘p’) responsibilities. Academic institutions and museums should, in any case, work more closely together than they currently seem to. Those who have, have shown how academic research can help trace the rightful location of a cultural artefact, whether a painting spoliated during World War II (1939-45) or ancient funerary objects from an Iraqi museum. This may be the only case for allowing scholars to work on certain objects of known or suspected illegal origin. Even humanities academic research these days requires commitments to certain ethical standards by funding bodies. If it is not already, I suggest that funding bodies join the cause of putting an end to the trade in illegally-acquired artefacts by requiring a commitment from academics to report suspect material to its holding institution and omit them from their research programmes altogether.
Tehmina Goskar Centre for Antiquity and the Middle Ages University of Southampton